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Holderness Hunt kills fox in front of monitors, police take ‘no further action’

* WARNING: There are graphic images included with this report. We’ve not used them to be gratuitous but to illustrate what we consider to be clear evidence of a wildlife crime *

In March 2023 Hull Wildlife Protectors (HWP) photographed hounds from the Beverly-based Holderness Hunt tearing apart a fox while hunt staff looked on and did nothing to intervene. HWP reported the incident to the police while still in the field, handing over evidence of the kill (including the remains of the fox) to the Humberside Police Rural Task Force. Just days ago, HWP heard that the police, citing ‘evidential difficulties’ and ‘insufficient evidence to show a realistic prospect of a conviction under s.1 Hunting Act 2004’, were to take no further action.

So yet again, a criminal act by a hunt, recorded on camera with all evidence handed over to the police on the spot, will go unpunished!

How does this keep happening? Monitors and sabs will know this of course, but, as we explain below, the answer lies partly in ‘intent’ and in loopholes deliberately inserted into the Hunting Act 2004 by pro-hunting politicians as the legislation – which was originally designed to completely ban the hunting of wild mammals with dogs – made its way through Parliament.

 

Hull Wildlife Protectors

At the end of August Protect the Wild was proud to provide Hull Wildlife Protectors with radios through our Equipment Fund.

When HWP applied to us, they mentioned that they had an active case against the Holderness Hunt, which they’d photographed killing a fox in countryside north of Beverley a few months before. The group had immediately called 101 and just a few hours later (while still on their way home) had handed evidence over to the Humberside Police Rural Task Force. They clearly couldn’t give us details as that might have prejudiced any investigation taking place, but, they said, were hopeful that such a blatant crime would result in a prosecution.

Last week a clearly angry and disappointed HWP came back to us to report that the police were taking no further action. Could Protect the Wild help them tell their story, and show just what monitors and sabs are facing when trying to hold hunters to account?

While there is little prospect of Humberside Police changing their minds, we welcome any opportunity to help publicise decisions like this and to promote groups who are working so hard to protect wildlife.

 

 

 

An illegal hunt

On the morning of the kill, HWP had been at the Holderness Hunt kennels in Etton, around 6km NE of Beverley in East Yorkshire. They watched the foxhounds and horses being loaded and when the vehicles left they started to follow them.

HWP told us that their “concerns were immediately raised” when a separate support vehicle (owned by David and Christine Heward) “tried on several occasions to block us by driving slowly in the middle of the road“, a tactic used frequently to let the hound van get away and out of sight. Knowing the area well though, they found a vantage point and followed the hunt to the designated meet at historic Beswick Hall owned by the landowning Duggleby family.

 

 

Around 11am the hunt left the rear of Beswick Hall with Tom Batten leading the hounds. The hunt stopped traffic (a frequent form of Hunt Havoc described here) on the busy A164 and crossed onto Wilfholme Road. One of HWP’s teams followed and another travelled to a separate location based on the direction the hunt was travelling.

When HWP got near Old Rush Woods, they saw Rob Daniels (the whipper-in) on the footpath to the west side of the woods. He appeared, as shown in the image below, to be ‘on point’ – in other words, keeping watch looking for signs of a fox escaping from cover after hounds are sent in.

 

Rob Daniels (Holderness Hunt whipper-in ‘on point’)

 

At Low Farm, HWP found more vehicles associated with the hunt with the drivers “looking towards Beswick Rush Plantation“. They parked nearby and started to look and listen for any activity.

 

An illegal kill

At around 11:42 HWP heard the sound of frenzied barking in the woods. They alerted other monitors that the hounds were on to ‘something‘. The Huntsman Tom Batten was then seen in a small clearing at the south side of the plantation with the hounds, but appeared to ride off in a westerly direction back into the woods.

A kill soon followed. As Hull Wildlife Protectors told Protect the Wild:

We witnessed a fox breaking through the hedgerow closely chased by the hounds. One of the hounds caught the fox and the rest of the pack joined in. Our field team were alerted and they quickly made their way to the location. At one point a hunt support vehicle driven by Christine Heward drove dangerously towards the foot team trying to block them. The huntsman could not be seen or heard at any point trying to control and call off the hounds. Hunt Master William Bethell could be seen nearby but again took no action and when our team passed him on foot he even denied there was a fox despite the fact that just 50 yards away the hounds were tearing the poor animal apart.”

 

William Bethell, Holderness Hunt

Holderness Hunt hounds killing a fox

Hull Wildlife Protector rushing into hounds to remove fox

Hull Wildlife Protectors with the body of the fox killed by the Holderness Hunt

The corpse of the fox ravaged by the Holderness Hunt and their hounds

 

It was soon after the kill took place that HWP made a call to 101 to alert the Humberside Police Rural Task Force.

Hull Wildlife Protectors take up what happens next:

“Rob Daniels appeared at the southwest corner of Beswick Rush Plantation and gave a lacklustre command of “back to him” to instruct the hounds back to Tom Batten. We ask again why the hunt staff did nothing to stop the chase or the kill. William Bethel, Hunt Master, responded that he didn’t know what was happening even though from the site of the kill we could see him clearly with a line of sight over the thin wire fencing.

We then met up with the Rural Task Force to hand over all the evidence we had, including the body of the fox and all our cameras and bodycams with the footage.

The police issued the Hunt with a dispersal order for the day, and the Hunt packed and went home.”

 

Holderness Hunt guilty of Antisocial Behaviour

It’s interesting to note here, that police issued the Holderness Hunt with a dispersal order.

As we explain in our Protectors page > Antisocial Behaviour and the Law, under Section 35 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 Police Constables and Police Community Support Officers in uniform have the power to exclude a person from an area for a period of up to 48 hours with an Inspector’s authority. Dispersal powers can apply to any antisocial behaviour and does not require the pre-designation of a dispersal zone.

In addition to having the Inspector’s authority, to enforce a dispersal order the police officer must have reasonable grounds to suspect that the behaviour of the person in the locality has contributed to or is likely to contribute to:

  • members of the public in the locality being harassed, alarmed or distressed, or
  • the occurrence in the locality of crime or disorder, and
  • that the PC or PCSO considers that giving a direction to the person is necessary for the purpose of removing or reducing the likelihood of the above.

 

Clearly – reading the law as it is laid out – the police on the scene considered the Holderness Hunt were guilty of acting (or were likely to act) criminally. They sent the Holderness packing as a result.

But that – as has been the experience of so many monitors and sabs – is a very long way from charging them with illegal hunting…

 

 No Further Action

As we stated at the top of this post, Humberside Police confirmed to Hull Wildlife Protectors this week that they are not going to pursue charges against the individuals involved, due to ‘evidential difficulties to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the hunting of the wild mammal was intentional’.

Really? The Hunting Act banned hunting with hounds. Common sense would say that if you go out into the countryside in fancy dress with a pack of dogs, aren’t seen to lay any trail whatsoever (and HWP are firm on this point), have a phalanx of ghoulish supporters keeping a lookout for foxes, and are filmed doing nothing while an animal is ripped apart, you must have intended to hunt.

Not according to the law…

 

  ‘Support’ ghouls – innocently watching the hounds work, or illegally helping the Hunt kill foxes?

 

In 1969 a ruling by the House of Lords said that ‘guilty intent’ in criminal acts is important in establishing guilt in all ordinary cases.

This ‘intent’ factor has been leapt on by Hunts (and their defence attorneys) because successful Hunting Act prosecutions must prove that hunts (no matter what is obvious from the outside) meant or intended to kill a wild animal.

Again, it might seem like stating the obvious that hunts are intending to kill foxes when they leave the kennels with a pack of hounds, but the Crown Prosecution Service highlighted a case where defendants were able to claim that “although their dogs may indeed have hunted a wild mammal, there has not been proof that they intended their dogs to do so, or that they could have done anything to stop them since they were far away from the dogs when the chase took place”.  The latter part of that statement forms another defence hunts often fall back on: ‘temporary lapse’. In other words, just for a moment they had a temporary lapse when they saw the hounds chasing a fox but because they were ‘up the road’ they temporarily couldn’t stop them in time. Just an unfortunate accident, m’lud, how we wish we’d been that bit closer’ etc etc.

Protect the Wild can’t prove it of course, but wouldn’t knowledge of the law be the reason why Hunt Master Bethell is at pains to state to monitors that “he didn’t know what was happening”? Why the rest of the hunt’s riders hung back and in effect ‘looked the other way’? It’s a classic hunting tactic to create the situation for a kill, then for riders to slightly distance themselves at the crucial moment so that they are able to claim there was no ‘intent’ or that the ripping apart of yet another fox by yet another hunt was simply a lapse and an accident.

 

A jolly wheeze. Members of the Holderness Hunt looking the other way…

It is incredibly difficult to prove ‘intent’ in a court – especially in a criminal matter where the burden of proof is so high. As Humberside Police themselves explained, “We need to prove/show, beyond reasonable doubt, a pursuit of a wild mammal and that the pursuit/hunting was intentional”.

‘Intent’ is why hunts claim to be ‘exercising their dogs’ when they are actually hunting. Why they allow their dogs to run so far ahead of them when in law they should be under close control at all times. Why they deny, deny, deny even when caught red-handed.

 

A Proper Ban on Hunting

Protect the Wild has every sympathy with Hull Wildlife Protectors – and even more for the poor fox that was mauled to death in such a horrible way.

And while it might appear that we would be critical of the police, in this case we’re not. Hull Wildlife Protectors tell us they are developing a good working relationship with the Humberside Police Rural Task Force. The police turned up when they were called, recognised what was going on, collected the evidence, and dispersed the hunt.

The problem here is the law and the loopholes in the Hunting Act 2004. An exemption like ‘trail hunting’ is a notorious loophole exploited every day by fox hunts. Stag hunts exploit a ridiculous exemption that allows them to chase stags under the ludicrous ‘research and observation‘ loophole’. Hovering over them all is the requirement to prove ‘intent’.

We are proposing a new Bill that if it becomes law would be called the Hunting of Mammals Act. Amongst the many improvements it would make to existing legislation would be to remove those exemptions and loopholes (so no ‘trail laying’ excuse) and, crucially, make it clear that hunts would be criminally liable if they are ‘reckless’.

In law, ‘recklessness’ means unjustified risk taking. A person acts recklessly with respect to:

  1. a circumstance when they are aware of a risk that it exists or will exist;
  2. a result when they are aware of a risk that it will occur;
  3. it is in the circumstances known to them to be unreasonable to take the risk

 

In other words, had the Hunting of Mammals Act been in place the Holderness Hunt would have been charged with illegal hunting because they would have been reckless in taking hounds trained to kill foxes into the countryside and then knowing that the hounds were ‘in cry’ took an unjustifiable risk that a fox would be killed by not calling them to heel.

Full details of our Bill (which was written with the highly-regarded legal firm Advocates for Animals) are posted on our website, but essentially it:

  • will at last add a ‘reckless’ hunting clause by making it a crime to ‘intentionally or recklessly’ hunt a wild mammal with a dog.
  • will finally ban so-called ‘trail hunting’ by making it a crime to hunt any mammal with a dog using any animal-based scent (so hunts will no longer be able to claim it is a ‘legal activity’).
  • will make it a crime for a landowner to ‘assist’ a hunt by ‘knowingly causing or permitting’ a hunting crime to take place on their land.
  • will increase ‘search and seizure’ powers meaning that police will have the power to take vehicles and mobile phones from hunts in the field.
  • will make relevant ‘organisations and bodies corporate’ (such as registered hunts) and officers within those organisations liable for crimes committed by hunts.
  • will give courts the powers to ‘deprive’ hunts of any horses or dogs used to commit hunting crimes (with provisions to ensure the welfare of any animal taken).
  • will allow the ‘forfeiture’ of any ‘hunting article’ used to commit a hunting crime.
  • will enable courts to ‘disqualify’ individuals committing hunting crimes from owning or transporting animals used in hunting or making any arrangements in connection with hunting.
  • will at last include ‘searching’ for an animal in the definition of hunting.

 

With our Bill, hunting would finally end for good.

 

Empowering people to protect British wildlife

Hunts like the Holderness are not the exception. There are hunts just like them up and down the country, and this will be just one of hundreds of similar incidents that will take place this ‘season’. Things must change, which is why it is vital that reports like this reach as wide an audience as possible. Public opinion is already helping to close hunts down and it’s a pressure we need to keep applying.

We wouldn’t be in a position to share this incident if Hull Wildlife Protectors hadn’t generously given us the details and images. At no point did they ask to be given credit (though of course they fully deserve it) or for anything in return. They work on the front line to save animals, and we will continue to support them for as long as they would like us to.

If you or your group could use our support, require equipment for use in the field, or would like us to help explain across our many platforms the incredible work you do please get in touch.